U2’s Celebration: The band looks back and walks on with an epic stadium show

“Pittsburgh isn’t sleeping tonight,” Bono told the crowd as a stadium full of glowing cell phones lit up Heinz Field. I mean, this was the show. U2 playing their brilliant album, “The Joshua Tree,” was enough to make me countdown to the event everyday this past winter. Their songs are the soundtrack to my life. If you walk away walk away, I will follow. And I did. You did. We all did. So, let’s get to the show.

Alright I’ll just say it. Yeah, I’ll easily say it. The first seven songs were the most mesmerizing euphoric start to a concert. Ever. I’m not exaggerating. Not one bit. You see, the show begins with Larry walking out onto the mini Joshua Tree Shaped B stage in the middle of the floor, sitting at his drum set, and then pounding away on the drums to, you guessed it, “Sunday Bloody Sunday!” I know, I know, yeah it was that crazy. Crazy as in the entire crowd went into a frenzy with cameras going up and people shouting out the lyrics to the iconic hit. Soon Bono comes walking down the catwalk, dressed in black jeans, long sleeve black shirt and wearing glasses (no shades) while belting out the verse as all of us in the first few rows lean against one another while trying to snap the perfect picture. You know, that’s a hard decision. All of us want a great picture but at the same time we want to savor the moment. I put my phone down. I believe that you have to enjoy these moments because they don’t happen often. But anyway, from that point on it was like a rocket going into outer space, with the Edge and his delay manning the controls. Past the stars and over the lonely desserts. Stand up and sing because it’s all that you can’t leave behind.

After “Sunday Bloody Sunday” the band went straight into “New Year’s Day,” followed by a spiritual moment of “Bad”. If those weren’t enough they went into “Pride,” and then things escalated even more. You heard the organ, and suddenly the band walked onto the stage together while the giant LED screen behind them went red, revealing a huge Joshua Tree. The notes to “Where the Streets Have no Name” rang out and everyone raised their hands in the air and cheered. That song is always one of my favorite parts of the show. So, to have it this early in the set was a complete surprise. The screen revealed a highway in black and white while the song played. Honestly, I swear it felt like we were moving with the screen. No wait, we were in the screen! That’s how real it looked and felt. What followed was “I Still haven’t found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You.” Yeah, I know, right? The beginning of the show was just unreal.

The tour is a somewhat surprise to most fans. U2 isn’t known to give themselves a party and focus on some nostalgia. That’s always been a big no for the band. Only because the band takes pride in releasing new material that is relevant. So, to have them dedicate an entire tour to one album is remarkable to say the least. But it comes at the right time. The band released “Songs of Innocence” a couple years ago, and according to the guys, an entire new LP, “Songs of Experience,” is ready to go sometime next year. I mean, why not celebrate their arguably best album with a worldwide celebration? 2017 was the perfect time to take a step back, enjoy the past and have fun with it. Having the chance to hear this entire album live is an experience that everyone will cherish.

The set included rarely played classics off the album including “Exit” and “Red Hill Mining Town.” The band also played “Ultraviolet,” dedicating the song to women’s rights around the world. Before “Miss SaraJevo,” footage of a young woman in Jordan was shown to the crowd on the giant LED screen. The message was that she saw America as a land of opportunity and her dream was to one day come to the USA. The crowd cheered in unison as the band broke into the song. Bono mentioned the ONE campaign and how all of us are helping to defeat AIDS. Other than that, he kept the political talk to a minimum.

It’s funny because after the first set of seven songs, I wondered what they had left for the encore. Sure enough, they had plenty. Bono walked down to the B stage while Edge and the rest of the band jumped into the opening chords of “One.” I tried not to get emotional. We all tried. But this song is powerful. I mean, these are the songs that make up the soundtrack to our lives. My life at least. And I’m sure many other lives too. So, it’s something that is just special beyond words to hear live. By the end, all of us are singing along while Edge rips into the outro solo. Just incredible. Absolutely incredible. Gets me every time. That moment was followed by “Beautiful Day,” arguably the bands best modern hit. I love how this song has become a classic in the set. I remember hearing it live for the first time during the “All That You Can’t Leave Behind Tour” in 01. Bono would run around the heart shaped stage while fans sang along. And now here we are at Heinz Field, the entire stadium singing along. The song is a moment of hope and just loving life. Don’t let it get away.

As if that wasn’t enough, the band followed that hit with another song off of the same album, “Elevation.” Yeah. Wow. During the song, the floor became unglued as we jumped up and down high, higher than the sun, our converses barely touching the ground. I think my ankles are still sore from jumping up and down. But you know what? It’s 100 percent worth it. Those moments don’t happen often. I remember jumping up in the air while Edge’s guitar reached new decibels. I looked over and there are two slender guys, somewhere in the 20’s range with brown hair, each sporting U2 t-shirts, jumping up and down too. You see, the crowd is great because you have all of these different ages. Aside from the 20-year-old hipsters to the 70-year-old baby boomer rockers, you have young children who are around 8, sitting on their parent’s shoulders, witnessing their first U2 show. And what a show it was.

The band ended the show with a new track, “The Little Things That Give You Away.” The song is strong with Bono’s heartfelt vocals and Edge’s trademark guitar delay solo. I just didn’t want the show to end. After the song, the band stood together on stage while the screen went red with a black silhouette of a large Joshua Tree. People clapped and cheered loudly, wanting one more song. But the fact of the matter is that the band could have played all night and we’d still be wanting more. These shows go by so quick, in the blink of an eye. I don’t even know where to begin. The songs, the giant-sized LED screen, the crowd, it’s all there. The house lights came on and people began to exit the stadium. As I was walking and looked back at the set, I noticed the screen now covered with a brown Joshua Tree, it’s branches extending across the screen to the both ends of the stage. I just laughed and shook my head, thinking about an incredible show and experience that I’ll always remember. You see, the boys from Dublin, they always seem to outdo themselves. I thought about what Bono said earlier in the show. The part about not sleeping. No, I definitely wasn’t going to be sleeping tonight, for good reason though. I’ll think about this for days and how incredible the night was. The show was a celebration of rock and the power of song, all of us rejoicing in the spirit and love for a band that makes you stand up, sing, believe and live it up with the red-hot sun rising in the desert over the Joshua Tree’s.

Josh McCann- Pittsburgh, PA- Heinz Field June 7th 2017


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